The Death of Hunter Thompson

March 25, 2005

Hunter's Final Thoughts -- Rolling Stone dedicated its March 24 issue to Hunter Thompson, with his picture on the cover and a substantial portion of the book dedicated to articles and remembrances about him. Good stuff. I haven't finished them all yet, but there were a couple of things that stuck out and ask for a comment. There was an article about Thompson's final days by Douglas Brinkley, who edited two volumes of Thompson correspondence, The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America. There seemed to be a forced attempt to create complete closure and eliminate any doubts about the exact circumstances of his death.

Plenty of people here will groan and say, "There you go again with that conspiracy theory. Why do you always have to find conspiracies everywhere?" I'm not claiming have any particular knowledge about his death, and I'm not trying to force a conclusion that there was something sinister in his shooting death. But when there are unknowns, they should be treated as unknowns, recognized as unknowns and not twisted into certitude. As much as we long for closure and wish to see things simply, the fact is that much will always remain mysterious and unknown to us.

Whenever anyone dies a grisly, violent death, it is extremely disturbing and there is a great need to put the matter to rest and to think of it in as simple and benign a way as possible. If Hunter were here, he could tell us what happened, but he's not. The thought that there may have been foul play, that there may be an unsolved crime, a killer on the loose, is extremely unsettling. But there are questions, and though it may be a good idea to put them to rest and move on, it seems pointless to pretend there are no unanswered questions.

In Douglas Brinkley's article there were a couple of points at which he went a little too far in trying to create a picture of certitude and completion, an attempt sense of it all without allowing room for doubt that there may have been something sinister in the shooting. "He always kept suicide open as an option," Brinkley said. That is surely true, and is true of a great many people who have not yet, or may never commit suicide. It doesn't prove that he did in this case take that option. He may have. It would have been in character. But it doesn't mean he did.

Brinkley describes an incident in February that "in my mind, led to Hunter's final suicide decision." At a friendly gathering, Thompson shot a pellet gun at a gong that was only a foot away from his wife's head. It made his wife really angry and upset, understandably. "Hunter sat up late with [his son] Juan that evening and discussed his mortality but never hinted at suicide."

All very well. This may have been a prelude to suicide as Brinkley suggests. It may not have been as well. It all depends on what happened the night Thompson actually died. That moment Brinkley describes like this:

At 5:16 p.m. Anita telephone in from the health club. Hunter picked up the handset, and they talked in hushed tones for twn minutes. Once again they spoke about the pellet gun. As the conversation wound down, however, they had made up. "Come home, Anita, everything is all right," Hunter cooed. "Come home." But while he was saying this, she heard a strange clicking noice. "I thought he was doing something to the TV," she recalled. "So I casually hung up." Thinking that Anita was still on the line, Hunter finished loading the .45-caliber gun, placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The telephone -- not hung up -- dropped and dangled at his side. Juan, in another room, heard the loud thud and thought it was a book falling to the ground. He rushed inot the kitchen to find his father slumped over his chair. The bullet had exited the back of hUnter's skull and was imbedded in the metal stove vent behind him.

Perhaps that is what happened. But how does Brinkley know what Thompson was thinking at the moment of death? He has reconstructed the story based on assumptions he has no grounds for making. I am not trying to put forth another certitude in place of this one. I just object to the assumptions. Tell us what you know. Tell us what you speculate. But don't try to tell us what Hunter was thinking when he died.

The story still leaves questions, in my mind. And they may have to remain questions. It isn't open and shut. It's not that clear and logical why he would shoot himself in the middle of that conversation as it is described. If his son heard what he thought was a book falling, why would he "rush" into the kitchen?

Hunter's voice is stilled. That in itself seems out of character. Hunter Thompson not leaving a note? He so liked to shoot off his mouth. Wherever he is, he's probably shooting it off now. If only he could tell us what happened in that last strange moment.

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